Russian independent media outlet VTimes forced to shut down after being labelled a "foreign agent"

Russian news website VTimes said on Thursday it was closing after being designated a "foreign agent" by the authorities last month in a widening crackdown on media critical of the Kremlin, Reuters reports.

VTimes said the designation had scared away its partners, ruined its business and made it harder to report news.

Russia uses the "foreign agent" designation to label foreign-funded organisations that it says are engaged in political activity. The term carries negative Soviet-era connotations and subjects those designated to extra bureaucratic scrutiny.

The designation requires outlets to publish a 24-word disclaimer saying their publications are distributed by a media outlet "fulfilling the function of a foreign agent".

The requirement extends even to social media postings.

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VTimes was established up last year by a group of journalists who quit Vedomosti, a top Russian business newspaper, after accusing their new editor-in-chief of introducing pro-Kremlin censorship.

"The 'foreign agent' label... has ruined VTimes' business model - and we set up this outlet as a business," VTimes said in a statement. "Advertisers and partners do not understand how to work with a 'foreign agent' - and we cannot judge them for that."

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